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Live Reporting

Edited by Sarah Fowler and Sarah Collerton

All times stated are UK

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  1. That's all for now

    We're finishing our live coverage for the day now. Thank you for joining us.

    Today's coverage was brought to you by Sarah Collerton, Sarah Fowler, Katie Wright, Becky Morton, Victoria Bisset, Alexandra Fouche, Victoria Lindrea, Justin Parkinson and Kate Whannel.

  2. Main Covid headlines

    An empty South Terminal at Gatwick Airport

    We're finishing our live coverage shortly. Before we leave you, here are the main Covid headlines of the day:

    • More than 40 countries have now closed their borders to the UK amid fears over the spread of a new variant of coronavirus. Spain, India, Hong Kong and Pakistan are among the latest countries to ban UK arrivals.
    • At a press briefing, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he and President Emmanuel Macron were hoping to unblock the border between the UK and France in the "next few hours". France shut its borders to UK hauliers for 48 hours due to the new variant.
    • Retailers have played down fears of food shortages due to the French-UK border closure, but they warned of "serious disruption" without a resolution.
    • US President-elect Joe Biden is to receive the coronavirus vaccine along with his wife Jill later.
  3. Singapore gets Asia's first Pfizer-BioNTech delivery

    Singapore has received Asia's first delivery of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine.

    It is the latest country in the world to have approved and received doses of the vaccine, after the US, the UK and a few others.

    It plans to inoculate its population of 5.7 million within weeks, starting with health workers, the elderly and the medically vulnerable.

    "It's been a long and arduous year, I hope that this news will give Singaporeans cheer this festive season, and reason to be optimistic for 2021," Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said as he welcomed the consignment.

    View more on twitter
  4. What's happening to the numbers in Africa?

    Peter Mwai

    BBC Reality Check

    With some of the most populous countries across Africa seeing increases in Covid-19 cases, there've been concerns that the continent is facing another spike in infections.

    The Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has talked of a "second wave" arriving.

    And there's evidence that a new variant of coronavirus in South Africa may be driving increases there. The country now accounts for more than 60% of daily new cases detected in sub-Saharan Africa.

    But there are significant variations across the continent, with some countries seeing small or localised spikes, others witnessing more sustained increases and some not yet past an initial rise in cases.

    Find out more here.

    Graph showing cases in Africa
  5. In charts: Cases rising fast in the UK

    Coronavirus cases are now rising fast again in the UK, driven by a new variant of the virus thought to be much more easily transmissible than other strains.

    As we heard earlier, a further 33,364 confirmed cases have been announced by the government today.

    You can see how many cases there are in your area here.

    Graph showing number of cases in the UK
    Graph showing number of cases rising in different areas of England
    Graphic showing latest daily coronavirus figures in the UK
  6. Quarantine for Brits who arrived in Switzerland after 14 December

    Imogen Foulkes

    BBC News, Geneva

    A policewoman and policeman (center) ride a ski lift as they patrol on the slopes in Switzerland, 19 December

    The Swiss government has said all UK citizens who arrived in Switzerland after 14 December must immediately quarantine.

    Entry for UK citizens by air or land is now prohibited, following a suspension of all air connections at midnight last night.

    The government says the measures are intended to prevent, as much as possible, the spread of the new strain of Covid-19.

    Thousands of UK citizens have arrived in Switzerland over the last few days, primarily to take advantage of the open ski slopes over the holiday season.

    Geneva airport registered 10,000 UK arrivals this last weekend alone.

  7. Main takeaways from today's Covid briefing

    Boris Johnson at Covid briefing in Downing Street

    The prime minister hosted a press conference a short time ago, alongside Transport Secretary Grant Shapps and the UK's chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance.

    Here are the key points:

    • Boris Johnson says he and French President Emmanuel Macron are working to unblock the border "as fast as possible". He said they hoped to ease the flow of trade in the "next few hours".
    • The PM said only 20% of freight was affected by the border closure with France and supermarket supply chains remained "strong and robust".
    • Johnson said he understood the anxieties of those nations which have closed their borders to the UK - but added the risks of transmission from a solitary lorry driver "were really very low".
    • Shapps urged people not to travel to Kent. He said queues of 500 lorries, caused by the border closure, had been reduced to 170.
    • The coronavirus variant is in every area of the UK, not just in London and the south-east of England, said Vallance. He said people should "stay local", stressing measures to reduce were now "even more important" given the variant's "fast transmissibility".
    • Vallance said case numbers are likely to go up after the Christmas period and that will lead to tougher restrictions. Both he and the PM reiterated that there is no suggestion vaccines will not be effective in combatting the new variant.
    • Johnson said 500,000 people across the UK have now received the initial dose of the Pfizer/Biotech vaccine and he had "every reason" to believe the country would "bounce back" next year.
  8. EMA vaccine recommendation 'step in right direction'

    Anna Holligan

    BBC News Hague correspondent

    A photo taken off the screen of a laptop shows Emer Cooke, CEO of the European Medicines Agency (EMA), explaining the approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine during an online press conference in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, on 21 December 2020
    Image caption: The quick approval of the vaccine was a real historic achievement, EMA CEO Emer Cooke said

    The European Medicines Agency (EMA) has given the green light for the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine to be rolled out within the EU. The Amsterdam-based regulator brought the decision forward by eight days under pressure from EU states, after the UK and the US approved the jab more quickly.

    This is not a silver bullet, EMA Director Emer Cooke conceded, but she said recommending the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for use across the EU was "a step in the right direction... providing citizens have enough confidence to get vaccinated".

    With millions of people's health at stake, the EMA described the approval of a vaccine within 11 weeks rather than a year as an historic achievement.

    Some 43,000 people were involved in one of the largest trials ever conducted; the EMA's human medicines committee concluded the benefits of the vaccine outweighed the risks.

    With regards to the effectiveness against mutated strains of the virus, EMA scientists say it is very likely the vaccine will retain protection against the new variant detected in England.

    The decision paves the way for EU countries to start rolling out their mass vaccination programmes within days.

  9. Pakistan bans UK travellers

    Pakistan has joined dozens of countries in introducing UK travel restrictions following the idenitification of a new strain of coronavirus.

    The week-long ban on travel to or from the UK begins on Wednesday and applies to all travellers coming from the UK or who have been in the country over the past 10 days.

    Some exceptions do apply, however, with Pakistani nationals in the UK on visitor or temporary visas permitted to return if they provide a negative test 72 hours before travel, undergo another test upon arrival and quarantine at home for seven days afterwards.

    Other countries that have introduced UK travel restrictions include:

    • Europe: France, Germany, Italy, Denmark, the Netherlands, Ireland, Austria, Spain, Portugal, Sweden, Belgium, Bulgaria, Switzerland, Croatia, Finland, Romania, the Czech Republic, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Russia, Luxembourg, Malta
    • North America: Canada
    • Latin America: Argentina, El Salvador, Chile, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador
    • Middle East: Turkey, Israel, Iran, Kuwait, Jordan. Saudi Arabia has also suspended all international flights for a week. Oman has closed all of its land, air and sea borders for a week
    • Africa: Morocco, Sudan
    • Asia: India, Hong Kong

    Find out more about the restrictions here.

  10. Analysis: Tougher restrictions inevitable

    Nick Triggle

    Health Correspondent

    It is clear the new variant will lead to tougher restrictions being introduced.

    The UK's chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, admitted so in the TV briefing.

    There is now a high degree of confidence it is leading to faster transmission - although there is no evidence it causes more serious illness or would disrupt the effectiveness of the vaccine.

    But with infection rates rising rapidly, there is already talk behind the scenes of more areas in the southern England going into tier four.

    But with the new variant seeded across the country it only seems a matter of time before other regions follow suit.

    Questions are also being asked about schools. The prime minister said he wanted to keep them open "if we possibly can".

    The race to vaccinate the vulnerable just got even more pressing.

  11. Manchester asks tier 4 visitors to region to self-isolate

    People walking in Manchester city centre

    Greater Manchester's directors of public health are asking anyone who has travelled to the region from any tier four area or Wales to act as if they have the new variant of Covid-19 and self-isolate for at least 10 days when they arrive "even if they have no symptoms".

    The 10 days should start from 19 December and those self-isolating should remain inside the place where they’re staying for the entire period.

    "Other people in the house do not need to self isolate but no visitors should be allowed in that house at all, even on Christmas Day," said Jeanelle de Gruchy, who is director of Public Health in Tameside.

    "If, during that time, anyone in the house gets symptoms, they must all isolate and the person with symptoms get a test straight away."

    Dr de Gruchy described the new coronavirus variant as "extremely worrying" because of its "incredibly infectious" nature.

    "It’s more important than ever that we all put in that extra effort to keep our friends and families safe in the coming weeks.”

  12. PM: Vast bulk of vaccines going to elderly and clinically vulnerable

    Boris Johnson

    David Hughes of PA asks the PM if he believes "morale takes a hit" when he "overpromises but under-delivers".

    He also asks what proportion of the 500,000 vaccines have gone to those in hospital hubs and those in care homes.

    Johnson replies that it is "important to be realistic".

    He adds that the UK "is the first country to distribute a clinically approved vaccine".

    "I find that a reason for hope and confidence, I think you should too," he said.

    He also says the "vast bulk of doses are going to the over-80s and the clinically vulnerable" but promises to provide an update when there is more data.

    That is the final question and ends the press conference.

  13. Analysis: Can reality match PM's optimism?

    Helen Catt

    Political correspondent

    As expected, the prime minister and the transport secretary were keen to try to reassure people that they have things under control.

    Plans that have been worked on to prepare for the possibility of a no-deal Brexit are now being rolled out to deal with disruption caused by European reactions to the coronavirus variant in the UK.

    Although, as we were reminded in the questioning, the trade negotiations rumble on and those plans could be deployed again for their post-Brexit purpose in just a couple of weeks' time.

    In terms of solving the immediate issue and resuming usual service across the Channel, the prime minister appeared quite upbeat - even putting a timescale of "the next few hours" on resolving the situation.

    What will now be key is seeing if the reality can match that optimism.

  14. Covid spread in next few weeks 'inevitable'

    The PM is asked if "lateral flow tests" - using saliva swabs - should be self-administered by the public. He replies that it is up to the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) to decide.

    Sir Patrick Vallance says work has been done to look at the new coronavirus variant. The view that it's transmitting more readily has been "reinforced", he adds, meaning the tiering system is vital.

    There will be "inevitable" increases in cases over the next few weeks, as people mix more over Christmas, he says.

  15. PM: We can look forward to a different world by Easter

    Boris Johnson

    Pippa Crerar of the Mirror asks why the whole country isn't in lockdown. She also asks why the PM keeps "over promising and under delivering".

    Sir Patrick Vallance says it is the case that the virus will spread more and adds that "measures are going to need to be increased in due course not reduced".

    Boris Johnson says keeping the country in perpetual lockdown would have been disastrous.

    "We can look forward to a very different world from Easter onwards," he adds.

  16. Social distancing 'even more important now'

    The PM is asked whether he can guarantee schools in England will restart as planned next term. He says the government wants, "if we possibly can", to get term under way in a staggered way, as promised.

    Sir Patrick Vallance says measures to reduce contact between people are "even more important" now there is a new variant that spreads more rapidly.

  17. Can tier 3 control the virus?

    Patrick Vallance

    ITV's Robert Peston asks if the UK will get a trade deal with the EU. He also asks if tier three will be enough to keep the new variant in check outside London and the South East.

    Boris Johnson says the position on Brexit talks is "unchanged". He adds that if a deal isn't agreed, then trading on World Trade Organization rules "would be more than satisfactory".

    On the second question, Patrick Vallance says it is important take action on tiers on the basis of evidence and urges people to follow the rules whichever tier they are in.

  18. Macron 'keen to sort out border situation'

    BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg asks how confident the PM is about getting delays through Dover and elsewhere under control. Boris Johnson says he had an "excellent" conversation with French President Emmanuel Macron, who was keen to get the situation sorted out "in a few hours" if possible.

    The PM says both sides want to resolve "these problems as fast as possible".

    Sir Patrick Vallance says the new coronavirus variant exists, to some extent, in all parts of the country. But people should "stay local" to prevent its spread, he argues.

  19. Will vaccine be rolled out more widely given new coronavirus variant?

    Downing Street news conference

    Rachel from Kent asks if the PM will consider rolling out the vaccine more widely and to more age groups - given the new fast-spreading coronavirus variant.

    Boris Johnson says it is "sensible" to stick to the plan of beginning vaccinations with those who are particularly vulnerable.

  20. PM: Tiers must reflect new coronavirus variant

    Asked why the whole South East of England is not under the strictest tier 4 conditions, the PM says the government "has to act" on information about where the new coronavirus is most common and spreading.

    The situation will be kept under review, he adds.